Are you the sensitive type?

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In my last post I talked about how the current health advice on losing weight and being healthy is wrong. By the media and health officials we are told that if we want to lose weight we should restrict our calories and exercise more. This advice is largely self defeating and unfruitful which leads a lot of failed dieters with no hope.

Conventional wisdom has taught us over recent years that our weight is dictated by the amount of calories we consume vs the amount of calories we expend. Unfortunately this advice is flawed. For one, it doesn’t address the issue of the type of calories we’re taking in (1000 calories of meat and veg has a completely different effect on the body than 1000 calories of doughnuts), and experimental science has shown that restricting calories alone  does not lead to fat loss. Instead, the controlling factor when it comes to body fat is insulin and insulin sensitivity.

When we eat, the carbohydrates in our food cause a rise in blood glucose. This glucose can be used as an immediate form of energy, but too much glucose is toxic, so as the glucose levels in our blood rise the pancreas secretes the energy transfer hormone insulin. The insulin is detected by our muscles, liver and fat cells which will start to absorb the glucose for later use. The liver and muscles can only take in about 400mg of glucose (more if the muscles are bigger), and the rest will get stored as fat.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything about the fat we might eat. Sugar and carbohydrates make us put on weight, not fat or protein. This is obviously in contradiction to conventional wisdom which tells us we should eat a low fat diet containing many ‘healthy’ wholegrain carbohydrates. Unfortunately it’s these carbohydrates (even the wholegrain ones) which make us put on weight.

So carbs ingested drives glucose which in turn drives insulin production which in turn drives fat storage. The problem, unfortunately, doesn’t stop there.

If our muscles and liver aren’t depleted of glucose, then more of the glucose ingested will be stored in fat cells. This in itself is enough of a problem, but because too much glucose is toxic for our cells and because more insulin than they expect (because they aren’t expecting any more glucose as they are already ‘full’) is being produced, then they protect themselves by putting up blockers to the insulin, in effect making themselves less sensitive to insulin. This means that in order to get the job done, the pancreas has to produce more insulin than before. And the more carbohydrates we take in, the more excess glucose there is in our system, the more insulin is needed and the less sensitive we become to insulin, and because insulin works to make us store fat our bodies are more efficient at storing fat than before. This is not the kind of efficiency we would like.

A further spanner in the works is the fact that while insulin is being created and is in our blood stream, our body will not release fat cells for energy. This is why we get hungry very soon after a carbohydrate rich meal. It also means that no amount of exercise whilst we are in this insulin driven storage mode will result in fat loss.

This spiral of lessening insulin sensitivity will also lead eventually to the point where the pancreas can’t create enough insulin to lower our blood glucose levels. If this happens, then we have developed type two diabetes. Sad times.

The fact that weight gain is driven by a hormone imbalance (too much insulin from too much carbohydrates) explains why it is that some people seem to put on weight easier than other people. Each of us probably knows one of those ‘gifted’ people, you know the ones, they can eat seemingly what they want and still go and get into those skinny jeans (don’t you just love them?), or maybe you’ve talked to someone (usually a woman in this case) and they’ve told you that if they so much as look as a chocolate eclair then they put on 5lbs. It could be that the skinny jean wearer and the chocolate eclair lover have different genetic dispositions to insulin sensitivity.

Different people produce different amounts of insulin for the same amount of blood glucose, this is why one person always seems to stay lean, whereas another person always struggles with their weight. Also, as we age our sensitivity to insulin drops, which means it’s easier for us to put on weight as we get older. So by the time they are 45, the skinny jeans wearer will probably have moved out of skinny jeans into something more ‘forgiving’ (if they have any fashion sense), and unfortunately the person who seems to take in calories through their eyes will more than likely be obese.

It’s not about will power, strength of character, virtue or the amount of calories we eat. It comes down to our genes and the percentage of our calories made up of carbs.

So, are you the sensitive type?

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2 comments

  1. Jason Taylor · · Reply

    Hi John, I listened very carefully today to your talk on healthy diets, exercise and insulin resistance (at Church). I am currently a type 2 diabetic and the first thing that the doctors and health professionals advise when I was diagnosed was to increase my consumption of high complex carbohydrates (pasta & rice). I have always struggled with my weight but I will see how the effects of a low carb diet have on both my weight and diabetes. Any advise you can give would be greatly appreciated and is there any reading material that you would recommend. God Bless, jason

  2. Hi Jason,

    Two books that I have found very useful are ‘The Primal Blueprint’ by Mark Sission and ‘Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It’ by Gary Taubes.

    The first is light on the actual science but very good in terms of describing a primal (and hopefully healthy!) life. It’s what it says it is, it’s a blueprint. It covers diet, exercise and other areas. The author also runs a blog (http://www.marksdailyapple.com) which I find very helpful. The other book is a look at the science of fat storage and a bit of the history of why we currently think like we do. I’ve found it very helpful in understanding the mechanics of fat storage and what causes it. This book also comes with a diet plan that you can follow.

    My advice (for what it’s worth, remember I’m not a doctor or anything), would be to stop counting calories and instead watch your carbohydrate intake. So eat as much as you like, but make sure you’re only having somewhere between 50 and 100g of carbs a day. Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries) are really good as they are low sugar; apples, pears and the like are okay too; watch bananas as they have relatively high sugar. Eat as much as you want of leafy green salad, vegetables (not peas though as they are a legume and quite carby), meat, eggs. Replace margarine or low fat spread with butter. At the very least ditch bread, pasta, cereals, sugar, crisps and all that stuff.

    Whatever you decide to do, I’d give your body about 3 weeks in order to adjust. Take measurements before (weight, waist size, blood sugar) and after and see if it is beneficial.

    Remember, you are the best judge of how you feel and what works for you.

    Hope that’s helpful.

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